Journalism Work

Make something: a lesson to makers and non-makers alike from the tech community

When a co-worker at my summer internship first said the word “hacker” earlier this summer, I pictured an evil spy breaking into government computers to steal important data and bank passwords from innocent civilians. Two months ago, I had never heard of the maker movement or hackerspaces, and I kind of thought 3D printers were a mystical piece of technology that were more toy than revolutionary tool.

All of these thoughts quickly changed in May when I started a strategic communication internship with Union Station in Kansas City. I was asked to help with an event called Maker Faire KC (Yet another unfamiliar term), and I quickly realized I needed to learn everything I could about this unfamiliar tech/business/creative community or simply pretend to know what my co-workers were talking about for the rest of  the summer. The first option seemed like a lot more fun, and so my adventure into this unfamiliar world began. I started posting blogs for Maker Faire KC’s website, previewing a handful of the 300+ makers attending Maker Faire KC (think inventors, crafters, builders and creators showing off projects at a huge show-and-tell type event), and updating the event’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Soon I was explaining Tesla coils to my friends and researching information about startup companies like Maker’s Row for fun.  The community and maker movement that started with MAKE Magazine and Maker Media and spread to Maker Faires across the country, had me excited about my hometown of Kansas City and a community of people I wanted to get to know and write about. Even though I am pursuing journalism and not a STEM field, I learned a great number of lessons from Maker Faire KC and the maker movement as a whole.

Here are some of my top takeaways from Maker Faire KC and the maker movement:

1. You’re never too old to feel like a kid.

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Power Racing Series at Maker Faire KC on Sunday, June 30.

Kansas City hackerspace, Cowtown Computer Congress,’ race vehicle blew two tires on the first day of the Power Racing Series. The team quickly replaced the tires of the vehicle that resembles the kind of car a 5-year-old would seem more likely to drive than a team of young adults. The “power” in Power Racing Series originates more from the kind of vehicle  the teams use more than anything else. That’s because each team creates its race vehicle from a power wheels car. The team’s vehicle, created all for under $500, averaged 17 to 20 second lap times and traveled at 14 to 15 mph around the track. The hackerspace was one of 10 teams at Maker Faire KC to race vehicles made for speed, well vehicles reinvented for speed, that is. Even though the competition uses vehicles seemingly best suited for toddlers, the Power Racing Series reflects the magic of the maker movement as a whole: Anything can be made useful and tinkering is always encouraged. One of the members of CCCKC said it best:

“It doesn’t matter what you make because if you come here (to Maker Faire KC) it’s everything,” Scott Mehl said. “I would say just get out there and make something. It doesn’t matter what.”

2. There’s no such thing as “too young.”

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Ted Brull, 11-year-old maker of Ted Clocks, at Maker Faire KC on Sunday, June 30.

Young maker Joey Hudy has met President Barack Obama, won numerous engineering awards and started his own business, and this year Business Insider named Joey one of the 10 smartest kids in the world. In the week leading up to Maker Faire KC Joey and another Union Station intern made a 3D body scanner using an XBOX Kinect in two days. Sylvia Todd, known as Super Awesome Sylvia, is another example. Sylvia has met the president, presented at a White House Science Fair, created a popular YouTube series and won numerous awards before her 12th birthday. Sylvia showed off her WaterColorBot at Maker Faire KC. I talked to Ted Brull, an 11-year-old business owner who makes clocks from repurposed computer parts, about how he got started. Ted, who is from Kansas City, started Ted Clocks after seeing his grandfather create similar clocks. Ted takes apart computers, designs bases and laser cuts parts for the clocks. Ted had a few words of advice for other kids interested in making.

“They should learn more about starting their own business,” Ted Brull said. “They should start taking apart computers and see what’s inside and see what they can do with it.”

I don’t know about you but young people like Joey, Sylvia and Ted inspire me to try the impossible. After all, they’ve achieved their dreams, and they don’t even have driver’s licenses yet!

3. Resources are all around you.

There’s nothing quite like feeling part of a community, and the KC Startup Village has harnessed the best aspects of innovation, creation and support in Kansas City, Kan., since Google Fiber came to the community in 2011. Local Ruckus, a KC Startup Village startup that recommends local events based on location, exemplified the importance of community at Maker Faire KC. The company encourages residents to “do the local thing” by getting off their couches and exploring the community. The startup which shares a space with Leap2, a new kind of search engine, has resulted from successful community collaboration and, in turn, has encouraged the community to share information as well.

“You’re surrounded by all of the motivated and talented people that want to create jobs and bolster their community,” Local Ruckus team member Stephanie Holm said.

4. The impossible is within your reach.

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One of the MAKEwithMOTO vehicles at Maker Faire KC.

Before the 3D printer, prototyping was an expensive and serious operation. A number of makers at Maker Faire KC showed off 3D printers and tools changing the way creation happens. The traveling maker studio, MAKEwithMOTO, brought 3D printers and laser cutting tools for attendees to use on-site. Over the course of the weekend several makers had turned concepts into prototypes at the truck. SeeMeCNC-3D Printers and More from Indiana showed off 3D printers that could be purchased for only $1,000. QU-BP 3D Printing and CNC Milling from Little Rock, Ark., brought 3D printers, the fastest in the world they said, that could print 450 to 500 mm per second at top speed. The 3D printers are invaluable for the 10 percent of entrepreneurs using them, QU-BP designer Nathan Myers said.

“It allows you to go from an idea to a real product in minutes,” Myers said.

These are the stories from just a few of the makers at Maker Faire KC in 2013. Almost all of them could be considered some type of hacker. The maker community is overflowing with intelligent and driven people looking to improve technology, business and communities. They are “hacking” standard processes and finding more efficient, cheaper and creative ways to accomplish just about anything. Maker or not, lessons can be learned from this kind of creative spirit. We all need to hear that there is no problem too big to fix and no limit on trying, tinkering and exploring.

Some days are for interviewing your heroes

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Sometimes dreams really do come true.

I have had a bumper sticker with the famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” for years in my room. This Christmas I asked for a poster of the iconic photo by Margaret Bourke-White, “Gandhi at His Spinning Wheel.” I spent a Friday night this January watching the three-hour-long biography movie “Gandhi.” I just started the 500-page-long autobiography “Gandhi.” I could go on…

Many of my friends say I am a hippie at heart which I guess explains why a message of non-violence especially resonates with me. So often I am overwhelmed by news of destruction and violence. Gandhi’s message is one I cling to because it is an example where patience, courage and good served as the best and only solution to a great problem.

When I heard Rajmohan Gandhi, one of Mahatma Gandhi’s grandchildren and an incredibly accomplished man in his own right, was coming to speak at Mizzou, I practically begged my news editor to let me write the story. I arrived at the event, which took place in Memorial Union, and interviewed the events organizers and interviewers. I think they could tell how excited I was about the story because eventually they asked if I wanted to meet Rajmohan Gandhi myself. Is that even a question? In the excitement of being introduced to Gandhi’s grandson, I blurted out my name before I could be introduced and rather awkwardly stuck out my hand for a handshake (You better believe I was not leaving there without a handshake).

I had prepared a few questions beforehand, but in my mind there is really no good question to ask one of the most interesting men in the world. Before I could even ask a mediocre question, Rajmohan Gandhi did something I didn’t expect – He asked me about myself. That’s right, before other topics on things like world peace and non-violence, I talked to Rajmohan Gandhi about journalism and Missouri. This was a man as courteous, humble and kind as I could have imagined.

My favorite quote from the entire event came from my conversation with him. I asked him if he had one interest that he valued the most (Check out his list of amazing accomplishments here).

“I am interested in bringing together the deeply divided people of the world. (I am interested in) peace and reconciliation.”

The event itself consisted of two MU professors, Journalism professor Charles Davis and Political Science professor Paul Wallace, interviewing Rajmohan Gandhi on stage.

I wish I had a recording of the entire interview, but here are a few highlights.

On the complex climate of Pakistan:

“The world likes four-second sound bytes and kind of two-word headlines, ‘terrorism,’ ‘extremism,’ ‘religious extremism,’ ‘jihadism.’ But ‘jihadism’ doesn’t explain everything … Pakistan, like so many countries, has so many contradictions.”

On the importance of understanding other cultures:

“The first step is to understand the world, even far away places, strange places, where people have unpronounceable names. So the first step is to study and learn, and the second step is to form a good relationship with one part of the world depending on your interests and inclinations, and then you realize that every place is just as complex as your own place and simple formulae don’t describe a place.”

On his grandfather:

“Whenever I was with my grandfather, the connection was incredibly warm and the affection was absolutely amazing.”

On observing his grandfather’s tolerance for all religions and people:

“I would say to myself, ‘This man is not getting angry with people who are quite angry with him, (unlike) how I would react.’ But he also is not yielding to them. He’s standing firm. So that is what I took away from him, apart from the warmth of the embrace of his hug and his strong pat on the back.”

I can’t think of an experience that could top that day. It was absolutely incredible to meet a living manifestation of kindness. The most lasting thought I took away from the event was the importance of seeing the value each and every person has. If Rajmohan Gandhi can take interest in the life of an insignificant college freshman, I can certainly continue the gesture and find worth in every person I encounter.

An internship by chance

I never thought I would dread a break from school until I got to college. But after a wonderful first semester, a five-week-long winter break was the last thing I wanted. Five weeks has never felt so long. At the beginning of the break, I tried to come up with activities to fill my time. Along with journalism, one of my interests includes volunteer work. I am a mentor back at school, and so it seemed fitting to pursue volunteer work while back in Kansas City – I didn’t think that pursuit would lead to an internship of sorts.

I emailed a couple of area charity organizations to find out about volunteer opportunities. Reach Out and Read Kansas City, an organization that pairs with doctors to promote child literacy and provide books to children at check up visits, responded to me quickly. They didn’t need any more volunteers for the season, but they did need help with communications work (I guess my email signature that mentions my journalism work at Mizzou helped me out). The opportunity sounded great to me, so over break on Wednesdays and Fridays, I have been helping the organization with communication and PR work. I was so excited to have stumbled upon the opportunity to help a wonderful charity and add to my skill set at the same time!

A postcard I made for Reach Out and Read Kansas City’s upcoming book drive.
Page one of the draft of the monthly newsletter I designed
(within the confines of their already established fonts and design).
Page two of the same newsletter.

My first college story

Or rather this post could be titled, “My first college story (that I’m proud to call my own).” I have now written four stories for the student-run paper at Mizzou, The Maneater.  Although I am happy with the results of the first three stories, I am definitely most proud of a piece I wrote called, “Art for Autism Exhibit and Sale raises money for local organization.” 

For the story, I went to an art gallery the night of the Art for Autism Exhibit and Sale. I talked to a number of parents and participants in the show and couldn’t include all of the interviews in my story. I loved getting to experience the story first hand. For this story, simply calling sources on the phone would not have been enough. It’s hard to describe the looks on the faces of the kids who had art in the show. They were so proud to see there work hung up and displayed for all to see. The parents were equally proud. So many smiles filled the art gallery that night.

In telling the story, I got to be a reporter and activist all in one. I reported on the incredible talents of these kids and raised awareness about a great cause. I can’t wait for another opportunity to write about another story with a lot of heart.

A few favorites

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, it seems fitting to reflect on a few journalism-related topics that made me a better journalist.

Favorite quote:

After seeing a flying machine zooming through the skies above Shawnee, Kan. for months, I wanted to find out the story in April 2010, during my first year as a reporter on my newspaper staff. The answer for months was “no” from the staff who said since we didn’t know the man, we couldn’t write about him. I kept pushing and finally two of my fellow staff members found out the man’s address and knocked on his front door.

I spent hours talking to the man on his front porch and watching him take flight. I found out that a student from my school often flew with the man, making a direct connection to my school. The story still remains one of my favorites.

I will never forget the sounds of the flying machine, the feeling of the winds around me or the excitement coursing through the field while I observed the man take flight. There was something serene and beautiful about the idea of flight that day. I could relate to the man’s desire to see the world from a different perspective. One of my favorite quotes came from the subject of the story. Quoting the movie, “Out of Africa,” Dave McKibben said,

“I want to see what everything looks like from God’s point of view.”

Favorite story:

During my senior year as co-editor-in-chief of my school newspaper, one particular story affirmed my passion for journalism and helped me decide to pursue a career in the field.

What originally began as a story about the uncertain outlook of a coach’s job position at my school quickly turned into an investigation of the coaching evaluation system as a whole. I spent upwards of 20 hours on the story and experienced a number of journalism firsts. I paid for my first police report, wrote the longest story I had ever written and dealt with some great criticism as well as great support as a result of the story. Ultimately, my superintendent thanked me for my journalistic courage in writing the story.

After returning from a particularly lengthy interview for the story, my journalism adviser (Who I already mentioned in an earlier post for her incredible support) solidified my career path. She told me that I should seriously think about journalism as a career because I wouldn’t be working so hard for something if I didn’t love it.

She was right. I had never worked so hard on a story before, and I loved every second of it.

Favorite moment:

Placing my finger on my favorite journalism moment is difficult. I covered topics from local personalities to cyberbullying, and I got to talk to a wide range of interesting people. I have so many fond memories from C101, my high school’s journalism classroom. Additionally, I feel very fortunate to have been recognized for my work with a few notable awards and scholarships. Although all of those moments were great in their own ways, I think I felt the most proud of my work during one particular interview.

I have had one source cry in front of me during an interview. This particular subject had been going through quite a lot and told me they had, in fact, not cried at all about the issue. As a journalist, that moment was one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences I have ever dealt with. A large part of me felt terrible that this person had been through enough to bring them to tears. Every part of my being wanted to comfort the source as much as I could. At the same time, knowing that I was the only one this person trusted with their vulnerabilities, fears and sadness made me feel unspeakably proud of myself. Yes, here I was, making someone reflect on their pain; however, I was giving this person a voice that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

I often reflect on the moment to remind myself why I want to be a journalist. So many people have no means by which to tell their stories. As a journalist, I feel that my position to represent the underrepresented is a great social privilege. Each individual’s unique human condition is unimaginably beautiful and powerful. All of us have a story to tell. I want to tell your story.